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Democrats Highlight Republican Absence at McCleary Briefing

Democrats make a point of GOP absence at final task force vote.

By Josh Feit February 12, 2013

There weren't any fisticuffs during yesterday's big-deal hearing in the house finance committee on the McCleary decision, but there were a few not-so-subtle jabs when Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34, Burien, W. Seattle) and committee chair Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-36, Queen Anne) implied that Republican leadership was MIA on education funding.

House finance committee staff had just finished outlining the Joint Task Force on Education Funding (JTFEF) recommendation for complying with the State Supreme Court mandate to fully fund K-12 education: The state should spend an extra $1.4 billion this biennium; an extra $3.3 billion in the next biennium; and an extra $4.5 billion by the 2017-19 biennium. (The state already spends approximately $14 billion per biennium on K-12 education with another $3.6 billion coming from local levies.)

None of their ideas came close to hitting $4.5 billion per biennium. The recommendation for increasing funding—which passed in a 6-2 JTFEF vote in December with the four Democrats and two appointees of then-Gov. Chris Gregoire (former Seattle Superintendent Dr. Susan Enfield and WEA head Mary Lindquist) outvoting Republican Reps. Gary Alexander (R-2, Olympia) and Susan Fagan (R-9, Pullman)—came with eight different suggestions for finding new revenue.

The list included everything from eliminating tax exemptions to instituting a capital gains tax to using money from the rainy day fund to retaining existing taxes such as the beer tax that are about to expire.

None of these ideas came close to hitting $4.5 billion per biennium, by the way; eliminating tax exemptions, for example, penciled in at $250 million a biennium and using the Rainy Day Fund came in at $300 million. In fact, most of the options didn't even approach $1.4 billion for this biennium—though at its high end, the capital gains tax could bring in $1.4 billion per biennium and a levy swap, the biggest source of money, would bring in between $1.7 billion and $2.6 billion per biennium.

Meanwhile, the two dissenting Republicans, Reps. Alexander and Fagan , had offered an alternative: They suggested no new revenue, a lower dollar figure ($924 million this biennium as opposed to $1.4 billion), and said the state could pay for it all by reprioritizing with an "Education First" budget

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, image from TVW

And that's when the first jab came—this one from Rep. Fitzgibbon. Fitzgibbon didn't take a swipe at his Republican counterparts in the house, though. In fact, he commended the dissenting Republicans for at least submitting an alternate proposal.

"I wanted clarity on whether the senate Republicans had any proposal of their own."—Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon

He noted, for the record, however, that the Republican senators on the JTFEF—which evened out the number of Democratic and Republican legislators on the task force—didn't even show up for the vote.

Fitzgibbon added: "I appreciate that the house Republicans put forward a minority proposal here. I believe that was Representatives Alexander and Fagan [and alternate Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, R-31, Enumclaw]. I just wanted clarity on whether the senate Republicans had any proposal of their own. Or were they just not a signatory to any of the proposals on the table?"

The answer from the staffer: "They didn't submit anything directly to the task force that was voted on."

Heightening Fitzgibbon's criticism: one of the senators in absentia who failed to submit a plan of his own? The new chair of the senate K-12 committee, Sen. Steve Litzow (R-41, Mercer Island). The other missing Republican was Sen. Joe Fain (R-47, Covington).

Committee chair Carlyle apparently wanted a clearer statement for the record about the GOP's absence. About 15 minutes later in the hearing, after JTFEF member Dr. Enfield testified, Carlyle circled back to the issue, asking Enfield: "Can you give us a flavor of the participation of all the members? Were all the members of the legislature and the gubernatorial appointments engaged? Who voted for it and against it? And were there any other proposals that surfaced?"

Enfield responded politely:

I think it's fair to say that Jeff Vincent [the JTFEF Chair, and another Gregoire appointee] and I were hopeful that we really would be able to fulfill the charge that our task force was given, and we feel that we fell short of that. It wasn't for lack of trying on Jeff's and my part. ... When it came down to it, on our final meeting date, where we had to really put recommendations forward to staff so that they could compile the report, we were absent two members who were not there for the final vote.

Enfield could not remember if Sens. Fain and Litzow voted in absentia, to which Carlyle jumped in: "Representative Lytton [Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-40, Anacortes], who was an alternative [on the task force], might be able to shed some light ..."

Lytton, with the help of a fact check from a legislative staffer, responded: "They did not."

The reason Litzow and Fain didn't show up: The December 17 vote happened the same day the Republicans' new Majority Coalition Caucus was meeting to plot strategy. Litzow, who was not available for a comment, is still working on his education funding proposal.

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